It is running season here.
I’m not a matchy-matchy clothes kind of runner. There’s no Lorna Jane activewear lurking in my drawer.
Instead, I wear one of DorkyDad’s old gym vests that I rescued from the op shop pile. There are battered trainers that I should probably get around to replacing, and a pair of shorts that are older than DorkySon. On sunny days, I pull on a cap that was a freebie at a university event. Red on black: Save the Tassie Devil.
I’m not a competitive runner either. Not even with myself. An occasional glance at the default health app on my phone tells me that I run somewhere between three and five kilometres most days. There are routes I know I can do in 15 minutes (ish) when the air is cool and still. But on those syrupy nights when the sun is still bright above the mountain, I know it’ll be more like 20. I don’t measure time or distance any more accurately than that.
What I am, I suppose, is someone who runs to become a part of the streets instead of someone who runs to conquer them. Like Nan Shepherd during her forays into the Cairngorms – the delight she takes in her role as “peerer into nooks and crannies” rather than always reaching for the summit – I’m as interested in what I see as I am in the number of calories I burn.
It’s for that reason that I always run alone: earphones in, sunglasses on, and off I go.
There are so many opportunities in Hobart to run as part of a community: parkrun at the Domain every weekend; City to Casino; Point to Pinnacle; Run the Bridge… But for me that’s defeating the point. It’s supposed to be about solitude.
In Edinburgh, I always ran in the Meadows. The layout of the paths made it easy to start with something short and then build up, adding one block at a time to my regular route. I remember setting out once on Boxing Day: there was snow on the ground and great puffs of my breath were visible in the cold air. An upstairs neighbour was leaving for his run at the same time, lycra-clad limbs and a beanie up top. He glanced at my bare legs with a look of horror, before skedaddling off in the opposite direction.
In Hertfordshire, I would run after dropping DorkySon at nursery. Over the busy main road and up into the lime-lined avenues of Rothamsted Park, before veering right along a muddy path. I skirted the edges of fenced-in-fields where there were GM crop trials taking place. Cameras whirred in the trees, and bright yellow signs warned of the dangers of trespassing.
In Hobart, where I’ve probably run the most, it began as a way of exploring the city. But now four years on, it’s become a way of building up and reinforcing layers of memory. My current route takes me past the Airbnb where a friend stayed last year, and it makes me think of her every time. I run the dirt paths where DorkySon wobbled off on his bike for the first time, keeping half an eye out for snakes in the summer months.
Some days I run and think about the things I should say in an upcoming job interview, or how I can improve a piece of writing I’m working on. Other days, I don’t think at all. I just put one foot in front of the other and absorb the surroundings with all my senses.
The gardens tell me that the seasons are changing: from wattle to blossom to bottlebrush, and then the arrival of honesty box apples by the gate. The birds do too: I watch the baby magpies lose their fluff and find their voices as spring turns to summer. Posters around the campus let me know when student elections are in full swing. I notice if a neighbour has a new car, or if they’re dog sitting for a friend. I can see who has cut back their pittosporum, and who needs to harvest their peaches before they turn to mush on the ground. I catch the welcome spray of a sprinkler on the back of my legs. There’s the smell of curry, or of snags on a barbecue. The thud of a cricket ball. The first cruise ship of the season honks loudly as it glides up the river.
And everywhere, from every street, I see that mountain with all its moods. The best way to watch the weather coming in.
In running, as in life, I’m learning to pace myself a little better. Weekly Pilates has helped me understand my body – the muscles that are still weak from pregnancy and birth, the hypermobile joints, the lopsided bits – and so I’m adjusting to the mindset that slow and steady is best. This year I’ve been doing two days of running followed by a day of rest, and for the first time ever I’ve avoided the frustration of swollen knees and aching hips. I won’t be challenging Usain Bolt anytime soon, but I feel better: healthier, happier and clear in my mind.
I believe that when you live somewhere wholeheartedly, the boundaries between person and place start to dissolve a little. When you think about your body, your home and the land around you, it becomes less obvious where one ends and another begins. Running has become a part of that, for me. It is a means of connection.
The sweetest thing about running around here, in the haphazard way that I do, is that all roads lead to home. With a scattering of fresh freckles, and my nose full of that heady scent of eucalypts after the rain, I can turn a corner at any time.
Home to a cool drink and a hot shower. Home to the prickle on skin of magnesium spray. Home where I close the door behind me and a small boy shouts, ‘She’s home, Daddy! Plum Face is home.’
(He’s a cheeky wee thing, but he sure makes me laugh.)
It is running season here; it is my favourite time of year.
I like to run alone. And then I like to go home.